LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron has used a visit to Turkey to equate Gaza to a “prison camp” and condemn Israel for its response to the Gaza flotilla incident.
Speaking during his first visit to Turkey as prime minister, in which he is calling for Turkey’s inclusion into the European Union, Cameron insisted that Israel’s inquiry had to be swift, transparent and rigorous.
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“The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable and
I have told Prime Minister Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli
inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous.
“Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change.
Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot
and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp,” he told the Turkish
parliament on Tuesday.
Cameron’s stance led Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to
again attack Israel for its handling of the incident, comparing the
Israeli army response, which killed nine Turkish Islamist activists, to
“What we saw happening was taking place in international waters and this
attack in international waters, as such, can only be termed as piracy.
There is no other way to describe it,” Erdogan said. “The pirates are there in Somalia and we take our measures.”
Cameron said that Ankara has a valuable role to play in the region.
Stating that Turkey is a friend of Israel, he appealed to both to
maintain the friendship.
“Turkey’s relationships in the region, both with Israel and with the
Arab world, are of incalculable value. No other country has the same
potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world. I
know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey’s relationship with
Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel,
not to give up on that friendship,” he said.
Israeli Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor disagreed with Cameron, blaming
the conditions in Gaza on Hamas and its tight control of the Strip.
“The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organization
Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas rule and
“We know that the prime minister would also share our grave concerns
about our own prisoner in Gaza, Gilad Schalit, who has been held hostage
there for over four years, without receiving a single visit from the
Red Cross,” the ambassador said.
Speaking on the second day of his visit, Cameron claimed that Turkey can
also press for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“It’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help
to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and
viable solution,” he said.
Britain is very keen to see Turkey as a member of the EU and Cameron
said he was “angry” at the slow pace of negotiations and has vowed to
“fight” for Turkey’s membership.
“I’m here to make the case for Turkey’s membership of the EU. And to fight for it,” he said.
“When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally
and what Turkey is doing today in Afghanistan alongside our European
allies, it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can
be frustrated in the way it has been. My view is clear. I believe it’s
just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit
inside the tent.
“So I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and
for greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.
This is something I feel very passionately about.
The country, he said, could become a “great European power,” helping
build links with the Middle East and also has a “unique influence” in
helping to foster understanding between Israel and the Arab world.
With regard to Iran, against which Turkey opposed further sanctions,
Cameron said there was no other “logic” to Teheran’s uranium enrichment
program than to produce a bomb.
“We need Turkey’s help now in making it clear to Iran just how serious
we are about engaging fully with the international community,” he said.
Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said
Cameron failed to address the role of Hamas and its “obsessive hatred”
“The prime minister should be calling on Turkey to play a positive role
in tackling Hamas, to ensure it accepts the Quartet Principles and to
insist on the immediate release of Gilad Schalit,” Polak said. “The
prime minister’s words certainly did not reflect the wider context, and
I’m sure this will be urgently addressed by the government.”
Robin Shepherd, from the London-based think-tank Henry Jackson Society,
condemned Cameron’s choice of words, saying he used the kind of deeply
hostile rhetoric against Israel “that is more usually associated with
the extremist and activist community, or with well-known detractors of
the Jewish state in the British media.”
He said that Cameron’s comments make him look soft on terrorism.
“This sort of language lies at the softer end of an extreme form of
discourse which routinely describes Gaza as an ‘open air prison,’ or
even a ‘concentration camp’ and which always airbrushes Hamas anti-
Semitism and its annihilationist ambitions against Israel and the Jews
out of the equation,” Shepherd said.
Prior to Cameron’s remarks, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said it
was too early to say there had been a change for the better in British
policies toward Israel since the new government came into power.
One official in Jerusalem said that Cameron has been almost entirely
focused on domestic issues, and that the new government had not yet
weighed in significantly on Middle East issues in ways that would
differentiate it from its predecessor.
Another official said that one would have to have a finely tuned musical
ear to notice the half and quarter-tone differences between the
attitude of the Cameron and Gordon Brown governments toward Israel.
With that, there was satisfaction in Israel last week that the British
government announced plans to amend the UK’s universal jurisdiction
laws, which have forced a number of IDF and government officials to
cancel plans to visit Britain because of a fear that they would be
arrested on war crimes charges.
One official said last week that whereas the Labor government only
talked about changing the law, Cameron’s government was actually taking
steps to move on the issue.Herb Keinon contributed to this report.